Return of the Jedi Almost Killed Off a Major Star Wars Hero (And It Wasn’t Han Solo)

Back in the '80s, George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan flirted with the idea of killing off more than just the bad guys in Return of the Jedi...

Luke, Han, Leia in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Photo: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Longtime Star Wars fans know the story by now: Harrison Ford believed Han Solo had reached the end of the line by 1983. Frozen in carbonite in The Empire Strikes Back and shipped off to Jabba the Hutt, the lovable scoundrel’s fate was certainly in question leading into Return of the Jedi. And Ford was convinced that the right thing to do was to kill off the smuggler for good.

“I thought Han Solo should die. I thought he ought to sacrifice himself for [Luke and Leia],” Ford explained in the 2004 making-of documentary Empire of Dreams. “He’s got no mama. He’s got no papa. He’s got no future. He has no story responsibilities at this point. So let’s allow him to commit self-sacrifice.”

The actor echoed as much during an appearance on Conan (via Cinemablend) in 2015, suggesting that a self-sacrifice would show how much Han had changed from the criminal without a cause of A New Hope: “I thought the best utility of the character would be for him to sacrifice himself to a high ideal and give a little bottom, a little gravitas to the enterprise.”

Ford wasn’t the only person involved with the creation of Return of the Jedi who thought the film should feature a shocking death to raise the stakes of the trilogy closer.

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“I also felt someone had to go,” Empire and Jedi screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan said in Empire of Dreams. “It should happen very early in the last act so you begin to worry about everybody.”

Indeed, the potential death of a major character was one of the big topics of discussion during story meetings between Kasdan and George Lucas for the initially titled Revenge of the Jedi. While all of the heroes ultimately made it out of the Original Trilogy in one piece, things could have gone very differently, according to the book Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays by documentarian and film historian Laurent Bouzereau.

Intriguingly, The Annotated Screenplays reveals that Han wasn’t the only Star Wars character on the chopping block. At one point, Lucas and Kasdan flirted with the idea of killing off Luke Skywalker in the trilogy’s final act, presumably sacrificing himself to destroy Darth Vader and the Emperor.

“I realized that I could kill off Luke if I wanted to, and I tried to play that up as much as I could,” Lucas told Bouzereau. “It was conceivable that Luke could die or turn to the dark side, and if he did, then it would be up to Leia to redeem everybody.”

Deciding it would be too dark for the children in the audience, Lucas backtracked from the idea. In order to give the trilogy a happy ending, the Maker decided that his beloved trio had to survive the final battle.

“It would really have put an unfortunate twist on everything if we had killed off one of the main characters,” Lucas explained in The Annotated Screenplays. “Luke needed to live, and we needed to have Leia and Han together at the end. The fact that the boy gets the girl — or the girl gets the boy — in the end was a key factor and was as important as Luke overcoming his demons.”

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But even if Luke, Han, and Leia had to live, that didn’t mean all the other characters close to them were safe. During the story meetings, Kasdan pitched that Lando should die in the first act of the film as a way to keep the audience on their toes.

“In the Sarlacc sequence I thought we should have one of the heroes go down to prove the Sarlacc was for real. I suggested that Lando be killed, but George didn’t want anyone to die except for the villains,” Kasdan told Bouzereau. “I thought it would have been a real surprise to the audience if someone we cared about died and had been killed by the Empire.”

In the end, all of our original Star Wars heroes lived to see the Sequel Trilogy more than 30 years later, if only to eventually die in those movies. But at least charming old Lando is still alive and kicking!